Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is significant for its ability to tell the stories of women and children in care or confined to institutions over the course of 150 years of Australian history. Approximately 1 in 7 Australians are descended from the convict women of the Female Factory, the children of the Orphanage School and the Parramatta Girls Training Home.
This precinct is the birthplace of interventionist welfare practices with the forced removal of children from their convict mothers introduced at the Female Factory in 1823. This practice became policy by the turn of the 20th century with the forced removal of indigenous children.
In 2004 the Australian Senate estimated upwards and possibly more than 500,000 Australians experienced institutional or out-of-home care as children in the 20th century. Today they are known as the Forgotten Australians.
Parramatta Female Factory Precinct is located on the traditional lands of the Burramatta Darug people. Dispossession of their traditional lands began with the arrival of the First Fleet and the exploration of the region by colonists in April 1788. Initially, contact between the Burramatta and settlers was friendly but as the settlement grew larger both groups clashed over resources and control.
Once a gathering place of the salt and freshwater Darug people, anecdotal evidence suggests that the land upon which the Orphanage was later built was sacred to Darug women as a birthing site.
Despite the trials and tribulations arising from settlement, today the Western Sydney region is home to the largest population of Indigenous people in Australia.
Parramatta early settlement
Established as a gaol town and government farm in November 1788 within a decade Parramatta became a flourishing settlement where today visitors can see many early colonial buildings and places including Old Government House, Salters Dairy, Lancer Barracks, Hambelton Cottage, Elizabeth Farm and St John's cemetery.
PrecinctMills & Land Grants
In 1792 former convict Charles Smith was granted 30 acres of land which today forms part of the precinct. In 1798 a government mill was built beside Smith's property near the present day footbridge to Parramatta Park at the southern boundary of the Orphan School/ Girls Home. In 1806 Samuel Marsden purchased Smith's farm and together with an additional 6 acres established a new mill where the Toongabbie and Darling Mills Creeks enter the Parramatta River. In the same year Governor William Bligh was granted 105 acres along the river extending from Marsden's property to the township of Parramatta.
In 1796 the first gaol was built in Parramatta on the present day location of Prince Alfred Park. This 100 ft long log walled structure was enclosed within a yard secured by a high paling fence. The gaol was damaged by fire on two occasions and in 1804 was rebuilt using stone with a floor above to house convict women.
Weaving looms operated by male convicts under the supervision of master weaver George Mealmaker were set up in a separate workroom along the enclosure's perimeter. Women were put to work washing, combing, carding and spinning wool and flax for weaving and at night slept amid the wool bales with their children in the Factory above the Gaol.
A Factory and Barracks for Convict Women
Convict women were perceived as a drain on the public purse particularly those who could not been assigned to settlers. For some they posed a moral threat to the fabric of society best put away 'out of sight, and out of mind' from the general population. This together with increased arrivals, poor conditions and the general inadequacy of the town's gaol determined Governor Macquarie to erect a new factory and barracks - a Female Factory, on a 4 acre allotment of Bligh's former grant about a kilometre north of the original gaol.
A New Gaol for Parramatta
In 1836 work commenced on a new gaol for Parramatta just north of the Female Factory bordering the Marsden property. The original gaol continued to be used for felons and prisoners awaiting trial, for fines and as confines for emancipated or non convict females and debtors until 1842. Once abandoned the site was used as a dumping ground until 1874 when it was gazetted as Alfred Square. No trace of its buildings or structures remain.